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April 19, 2013

Green Fleets = Green Jobs

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According to Brad Markell, Executive Director of the AFL-CIO's Industrial Union Council, increased investment in advanced vehicle technology is leading to more domestic jobs. "Why do hybrids and electric vehicles produce more jobs?" asked Markell. "New content," he answered. "Somebody has to engineer it, create production tools, and put the vehicles together."

This week, I attended the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference in Washington, DC. This is an annual conference where labor union organizers, environmental organizers, and business leaders come together to discuss challenges and opportunities in creating more domestic union jobs that move us forward to a clean energy future. The conference is organized by the BlueGreen Alliance, which is a coalition of some of the nation’s largest and most influential environmental groups and unions, including the United Steelworkers, United Auto Workers, AFL-CIO, Union of Concerned Scientists, National Wildlife Federation, and Sierra Club.

I had the pleasure of putting together a workshop panel called Green Fleets –Ramping Up Demand and Production of Cleaner Fleet Vehicles. Markell, one of our speakers and someone who worked for many years at the United Auto Workers, said there is growing demand for more fuel efficient and smaller vehicles, including hybrids and electric vehicles. He shared that the number of jobs in the U.S. automotive sector went steadily down over the last decade, but they started to rise again in 2011 and 2012. This increase in auto industry jobs coincides with thousands of jobs in dozens of U.S. states recently created in the advanced vehicle technology arena.

GJGJ2013_panelJoyce Mattman, General Motors' Director of Commercial Product & Specialty Vehicles, also spoke on our panel. Mattman said that her government and corporate fleet customers are increasingly asking for "greener" vehicle models. "Three years ago, 16 percent of our [total number of] vehicles sold achieved at least 30 mpg highway; today, it’s 40 percent," said Mattman. GM manufactures cars and light trucks that run on gasoline, natural gas, E85, hybrid power, and electricity, including the Chevy Volt -- today’s best-selling plug-in vehicle. GM is also doing research into vehicles that can run on hydrogen fuel cells and next generation biofuels. Mattman was proud to say that GM has received more clean-energy patents in the last two years than any other company or organization.

I talked about the importance of addressing vehicle fleets if we are to combat climate change pollution. Even though fleet vehicles only make up about seven percent of the vehicles on U.S. roads, they consume up to 35 percent of the oil. New light-duty vehicle efficiency and emissions standards and upcoming medium- and heavy-duty standards will only be strong and only be met if we can get individual consumers and the companies that operate large numbers of fleet vehicles to demand cleaner vehicles. Also, America's biggest companies are also among the biggest consumers of tar sands, the dirtiest source of oil on earth -- and a source that will dramatically increase if we allow the Keystone XL pipeline to be built. You will soon here much more from Sierra Club about oil, vehicle fleets, and what companies and activists can do.

The conference included dozens of workshop panels and an illustrious group of plenary speakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, President of the Communication Workers of America Larry Cohen, President of the United Steelworkers Leo Gerard, U.S. Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumpka. Many major corporations, including International Paper, General Motors, and Alcoa, also sent high-level speakers.

While there have been important efficiency improvements by GM and other vehicle manufacturers as well as in numerous other industries, we cannot rest on our laurels if we’re to meet the crises we face in our economy and our climate. We need to build upon the enthusiasm from this conference to work in earnest for more and better good, green jobs.

(Top photo: Gina Coplon-Newfield. Bottom photo: Todd Post.)

-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club’s Director of Green Fleets & Electric Vehicles Initiative.

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